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April 5, 2018

Rosetta Stone vs Babbel vs Duolingo: Should You Choose a Paid or Free Language Course?

So you’ve narrowed down your choices – Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo: But which one is it going to be? If you’re like many others who want to learn a language, then you want to become fluent in your language in the least amount of time. Why waste time and energy following a course that isn’t for you?

Also, you want the course to be easy to follow. And to have an emphasis on real-life spoken language. No use in following outdated teaching models and concepts.

At the moment there are 3 main language programs out there: Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo.

Each course has their pros and cons (we’ll go into the exact details later).

But if you don’t have the time to read through everything in this article – here’s which program you should sign up (if you’re on the verge between Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo) for when you want to:

  • Be able to have real-life conversations
  • Learn for 10-15 minutes per day
  • Use helpful tips in your native language
  • Learn with custom review sessions after each lesson to drill down the concepts you’ve learned
  • Learn grammar in easy-to-understand concepts
  • Without breaking the bank (starting from $6.95)

If this is what you’re looking for – It’s available in the following languages:

German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Dutch, Polish, Indonesian, Russian, Danish, Norwegian and English.

In the time it takes you to read this entire review, you could’ve taken your first steps toward learning your language. For free. So click here for a free lesson with Babbel.

If you’re learning Russian, I recommend you check out the following pages:

Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo – which one should you choose?

For those of you who want more information and details how we got to this decision, let’s continue reading:

Look, I get it. There are so many different courses out there, that it’s hard to distinguish the trees from the forest.

‘Total language immersion’ – what does that even mean? And how about ‘spaced repletion vocabulary learning’?

These are all great concepts, but if you’re anything like me (or most people), then you just want an easy-to-follow program teaches you how to have real-life conversations.

No language fluff or weird tricks. But a method that uses SIMPLE EXPLANATIONS for grammar concepts, and an easy way to help you remember new vocabulary (hint: by showing how a word/phrase is spelled, letting you hear the audio version – and showing a picture).

I tried hundreds of language programs for years to learn Russian. But few of them worked. Most of them promised the world, but didn’t follow up:

In the end, I realized that for a language program to be successful it only needs to have a couple of crucial factors. (and the fewer secrets or tricks – the better):

1) Teach new words and phrases using audio and visual cues (reading + hearing + picture)
2) Repeat these enough times so you cement them into your brain
3) Start off slowly with easy-to-understand grammar explanations
4) Then let you integrate this grammar rule into a new sentence
5) Rinse repeat steps 1-4
6) (optional) have all this in a clear user-friendly interface
7) (optional) the ability to test what you’ve learned

Of course there’s a lot more to it. But if you’ve got a program that follows these 7 simple steps, you’re guaranteed to make progress fast.

rosetta stone vs babbel vs duolingo
Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo: they’re all available in app form – you can learn a new language wherever you are!

So you’re looking for all ‘all-in-one’ language course:

Let’s dig a little deeper. Into the motivational side. You see, having the best program in the world isn’t going to do anything if you can’t follow it.

Like with working out: the best program for you is the one that you can consistently follow.

Sure, working your ass off 5 days a week for 2 hours at a time – while following a grueling diet might be effective.

But you’re not going to enjoy life that much – so good luck making it past week 3.

The same thing for language courses:

Quitting your job, studying grammar books 2 hours a day, learning 100 new words per day (plus rehearsing previous ones) and speaking for 30 minutes with a personal teacher will work.

But it’s not sustainable.

It’s better to pick a simple program that focuses on the elementals (remember steps 1-7?).

And another key concept to make sure you follow through:

The program should be a one-stop-shop. Meaning that you it teaches you every aspect of language learning. Speaking. Reading. Listening. Grammar. Vocabulary.

You don’t want to be in the middle of your session, only to need to grab a grammar book to explain the concepts in the course.

That would get you out of your flow. Ruin your concentration.

Luckily with the internet available – it now has become very easy to integrate all these aspects of learning into 1 platform.

And Babbel does this exceptionally well.

Sign up for the free trial of Babbel here!

But before we dive into the details of Babbel, let’s check out Rosetta Stone and Duolingo as well.

Rosetta Stone pros and cons

We’re not here to bash on other programs. Rosetta Stone is a great choice for those who have the money to spend and want a more eccentric program.

It’s based on total immersion, and you won’t find a word of English in the course.

Here’s an example lesson for Spanish:

Rosetta Stone Pros:

  • Tries to mimic how a child learns
  • Many languages available (more than 30 – also some rare ones such as Vietnamese)
  • Mobile app available

Rosetta Stone Cons

  • Ridiculously expensive (several hundred dollars for an online program?)
  • Showing pictures and words without explaining isn’t too effective for remembering
  • No grammar

So all in all, Rosetta Stone can be a viable option for those who are learning a rare language, or like the ‘no-explanation’ style in which your brain has to figure everything out itself.

So if you’ve got the money to spare, and like to use it as a supplemental course, it might be worthwhile.

Find out if Rosetta Stone is available for your language!

Duolingo pros and cons

On the other hand of the spectrum we’ve got Duolingo. It’s a free app that you can install on your phone.

As much as I try to enjoy Duolingo, I feel it’s more of a gaming app that masks as a worth-your-time language learning app.

You see, with all the gamification stuff going on it makes you feel as if you’re learning something. But a common problem is that people just don’t learn how to speak through the app:

I know too many people who went through Duolingo in record time, only to fumble and fall when trying to speak. Sure, you might learn how to say hello, my name is and how are you doing… but is that really what you’re looking for?

It’s an OK app if you want to supplement another course. But take this from me: if you’re going to use Duolingo as your main strategy for learning your language – 2 years from now you won’t be much further than you are now.

Duolingo Pros

  • Many different languages available
  • Good-looking app
  • Gamification will make it easier for you to open your app and start your lesson
  • Free

Duolingo Cons

  • Gamification is too easy – makes it feel as if you’re being productive, whereas you’re not really learning a lot.
  • Too much focuses on reading comprehension and translation instead of speaking
  • If you make too many mistakes, you’ve got to wait several hours before you can practice again (or pay ☹)
  • Not enough focus on Russian cases

Babbel pros and cons

The final language course in this Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo review: If you’re serious about learning a new language, then Babbel is a solid choice. It offers many different languages that you can learn – and their methods are simple and effective.

Here’s a short overview of how learning a language with Babbel works:

It’s a smartphone based app that will help you learn the fundamentals of a language. The lessons are short and concise and the format used is a quiz.

It uses audio, images and text to learn vocabulary and phrases – and this works very well for remembering.

Every lesson is bite sized – and that really helps you to find the time in the day for a lesson. It’s a lot easier to learn new words and grammatical concepts if you’re leaving some time in between lessons. Ideally a day so you can sleep on the new things you’ve learned.

Babbel is a paid app, but you can access it starting from $6.95 per month. Which is only around 0.20 cents per day – or around a cup of coffee per week.

is babbel worth it

But it’s also important to note than you can sign up for the free trial first. This will give you a better view of what Babbel exactly does – and if it’s the right program for you:

  1. When you sign up for the free trial, you first pick your language. At the moment there are 14 available languages.
  2. After that you do a short placement test. This is crucial as it allows you to start at the right level.
  3. If you’re a beginner, you should do beginner lessons. Otherwise things will be too difficult.  And if you already know some of the language, then you should start at a more advanced place – otherwise you will get bored.
  4. After the placement test you will get access to the free lessons for your level. This is perfect to get a feeling for the course. Plus you’ll learn some useful words and phrases – for free!
  5. After that you have the possibility to sign up for a paid membership. Which you can cancel anytime if you want. And there’s no pressure. So you’ve basically got nothing to lose by trying out the free trial of Babbel.

Babbel Pros

  • Available in app-form so you can learn on the go
  • Has an easy way of explaining grammatical concepts
  • Visual/audio style for teaching new words and phrases
  • Scientifically-based approach
  • Personalized quizzes after each lesson for better remembering
  • 10 to 15 minute bite-sized lessons
  • Very user friendly
  • Low price tag
  • Free trial for checking out if the course is for you

Babbel Cons

  • Only 14 languages are available
  • For some languages the material caps out at the intermediate level
  • You need to be online to use the app

So all in all, Babbel is the best choice between these 3 popular language courses. Especially if you’re a beginner or intermediate learner, picking Babbel is a perfect option for making a lot of progress in the first couple of months. And with its low price tag it’s hard to go wrong.

Here’s what I’d recommend:

Now that you’ve read this Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo, you know the pros and cons of each language program.

To give you a quick recap, here’s an infographic that sums up everything that we’ve discussed in this article:

is babbel worth it
Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo

Conclusion Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo

Learning a language is a serious endeavor. So you want to stack the cards in your favor as much as possible:

Picking the right program is one of the things that will have a big influence on your success. Especially in the beginning stages.

Look, there are basically 2 common scenarios of people who want to learn a new language. They both have the same level of intelligence and desire to speak their new language – only the courses they take in the beginning differ:

  • Person 1 picks a program at the start that offer an all-in-one approach that teaches speaking, listening, vocabulary and grammar. It’s a fun learning experience and he only needs 15 minutes per day to make some progress (which makes it easier to follow through). After 4 months he can have some simple conversations, introduce himself. He is full of motivation after seeing his initial progress and already planned a 7-day trip to a country where he can put his learning into practice.
  • Person 2 tries some free apps, but doesn’t see too much success. A couple of weeks go by and he tries some of the older, expensive traditional programs but soon finds out that there isn’t enough easy-to-understand explanation of the concepts taught. He decides that learning a new language isn’t for him and gives up.

Same person, same timeline. But one will end up fluent – and one will give up. Who do you want to be?



Struggle with conversations in Russian? My book the Russian Conversational Blueprint gives you clear instructions and daily tasks to follow to get to an intermediate Russian level in the next 6 months. Learn more.


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Author: Ari Helderman


I started learning Russian seriously in January 2016, and haven't stopped since. I created this site to help other foreigners speak Russian. You can follow my progress in Russian on my YouTube channel Ари Говорит по-русски.

  • I’ve been using Duolingo and Babbel for almost a year now.
    With Duolingo I find that it’s almost too easy. Unless I’m over-tired, I can usually get through all of tests with no errors. It’s not really getting that much harder with time.

    On the other hand, I find Babbel to be a nightmare! Even starting at the beginner level I felt like I’d been thrown in at the deep end. It has a horrible tendency to throw in obscure (to me at least) grammatical terms in the lessons, of which I have no idea what it’s talking about, e.g. One lesson asked me if I should use the ‘gerund’ or ‘infinitive’ in the sentence?’ What!?
    I’ve really tried to get through each lesson with no mistakes by reviewing all of my errors , until I get 100%, but the so called 15 minute lesson stretches out to over an hour as I struggle to remember what I typed in the last time I got the answer wrong (or what it said was the correct answer).
    I’ve basically given up on Babbel, as it always made me feel like I was useless at learning Spanish.

    • Thanks for your comment! Duolingo is great in the first 2 months or so, or for those who just want to try out if they like the language. I haven’t done Babbel for languages other than Russian, but I’ve heard the quality highly depends per language. The fact that you’ve already spent over a year, means you’re taking Spanish seriously. So I highly recommend doing the research and picking a paid course at this point.

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